Character is action – Using what your brand does to define what your brand is

There is a truism that is often quoted in screenwriting: “character is action, not dialogue”.

For example, if you want to reveal that a junkie is addicted to drugs you don’t have him say “I’m so desperate for drugs I’ll do anything”, you put the drugs at the bottom of a blocked toilet, have him fish them out and swallow them.

Untitled

You know you’re a junkie if…

Character is action is also true in real life. When an on-hold message says “your call is important to us” but you’re still on hold 20 minutes later, that not only shows your call isn’t important, it also shows the people on the other end of the line are either happy to lie to you or delude themselves into thinking that no one will care about their lack of service.

This is why one of the first things any organisation should do when they’re thinking about brand development is audit how they act internally and externally, and how those actions appear to the people who see them. These actions do more to define how the organisation is perceived and what a brand currently stands for than any strategic business plan with overarching values and goals.

At Shabbadu, we like to start every brand development project with a Communications Audit and a set of workshops with our client’s front line staff. It allows us to capture and define every significant action taken on behalf of a brand. Are they positive or negative? Desperate or confident? Caring or selfish?

By capturing a snapshot of what an organisation does and how it does it, we give our clients a strong understanding of what their brand really stands for and what they might need to do differently to live up to the promise of their brand. It also gives us a great foundation to develop brand assets that make sense of the way their organisation acts.

This means you should end up with a brand that strengthens what it stands for in a natural, self-sustaining way, no matter what twists and turns the script takes.

In defense of puns

Ah, puns. The copywriter’s equivalent of the dad joke. Harmless, chuckleworthy, eye-rollingly good plays on words that make us expel air out of our noses at a rate faster than normal for at least one breath.

I will admit I love a good pun and even kind of like a ‘bad’ pun. Good on them for having a go, I’ll think to myself. See, when you’re coming up with headlines for things, you try to find ways to highlight the stuff you’ve been told to highlight. You need to make a connection between the product and the potential consumer. Why not draw on common ground with a few well-placed words that have a smile-inducing double meaning?

But I’m not in the majority here. Some people hate puns, or deride them as ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. They say ‘there’s no such thing as a good pun’ and spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to create a gem before reverting to a tried and true “more than just a…”, “we’re for…” or new favourite “welcome to…”.

As such, advertisers of a certain chip colour have been reticent to deploy puns in their mass-market communications. This week, a few would argue we’ve all been witness to front row seats as to why.

Woolworth’s ‘Fresh in our memories’ campaign drew a strong reaction, and deservedly so. The internet responded as the internet does and amongst the swathes of digital disbelief and virtual hand-wringing someone somewhere pointed out that one of the worst things about this misguided use of the word ‘fresh’ was that is was a pun.

Great, I thought. Another thousand lashes for the fly-ridden dead horse of pun hate. But as a staunch defender of the play-on-word, I feel a need to intervene.

‘Fresh in our memories’ was not a pun. I appreciate that this makes as much sense as saying water is not a liquid, but lets look at the actual facts. Yes, it has a double meaning, but only because of the association the Woolworths brand has with the word ‘fresh’. If it was a true pun, the fresh would refer to the people in our memories being either crisp like a spritzed iceberg lettuce or somehow dressed like the Price of Bel Air. It’s also neither smile-inducing nor giggle-worthy in any way. And the only air that would be expelled from one’s nostrils upon reading it for the first time would be from indignant anger, not some beige variety of pleasure.

Not a true play on words. Not funny. No nostril air.

Three strikes you’re out = Not a pun.

The internet will move on by the end of the week. But brands will be more cautious as a result. Knuckles will be rapped and contracts will be reviewed. And standing in the line-up with the guilty parties will be the pun. A case of mistaken identity in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfairly judged for a crime it did not commit and I for one feel sorry for them. So now it’s not so much that every pun is a bad pun, they’re all just poor puns.

Sorry. I couldn’t help it.

Shabbadu’s Chris Taylor forced to hire his own sister.

It is with great regret that Shabbadu’s Chris Taylor announces the hire of a new Digital Strategist: his sister, Kate Crawshaw.

“I can’t believe I’m having to say this out loud in public, but I have a talented sister who knows more about the important field of Digital Strategy than I do.” says Taylor through gritted teeth.

According to Taylor, he was left with little choice. “Recently, more and more of our clients have been wanting in-depth strategic thinking for their digital and social marketing campaigns. I tried everything I could to hire someone else, but – and it kills me to admit this – the fact is my sister is one of the best thinkers in the field. Her fifteen years experience and strong skill set in everything from board-level facilitation and creation of strategic plans to implementation and staff training is perfect for our clients and for us.”

Headlock_01small

“As part of her hiring conditions I’m required to acknowledge that she is now, has been and always will be smarter than me and that Mum loves her more because she is clearly the better child.”

Crawshaw is clearly happy with her new role. “Now that the whole sibling rivalry thing’s been acknowledged as the no-contest it obviously was, I’m looking forward to teaching the little snail-eating bedwetter how the world really works. I’ll give my little brother his due, though. Shabbadu is a fascinating business with some great partnerships already in place. My role is to help nurture those relationships as well as strengthening internal processes as the business heads into an exciting growth stage.”

Taylor has no concerns about mixing family and business, though. “Look, if it doesn’t work out I’ll give her a hug, thank her for her help and tell her she was adopted.”

The art of giving feedback ~ or ~ The Shit Sandwich

We ‘creative types’ are a sensitive bunch. Sure, we might act all aloof and intellectually superior on the odd occasion, but in reality we’re just faithful hounds to our client masters: pining for a belly rub and hoping they remember to feed us on time. This Jekyll/Hyde persona is no-more pronounced than during the creative presentation/client feedback parts of the creative process.

A presenting creative is confident and assured. They have answered the brief in a fresh way and they’re bound to blow the client away with their cleverness. A creative receiving feedback is the ultimate submissive. The client holds their hopes, dreams and future successes in their hands. In some strange way, this piece of work represents a small piece of the creative’s soul.

Don’t laugh, this is serious.

To a creative person, to stand before a client is to stand before Caesar. For they are the ultimate judge. There is no appeals tribunal. Just a thumb pointing up or down.

So stepping out of the poor, defenseless creative person’s $200 trainers for a second, it’s not the client’s fault that they can’t take criticism, is it? The client has a job to do. They have their own masters to please. Why can’t it just be how they asked it to be?

Well, the simple answer is, it can.

Sometimes as creatives, we get it wrong. Sometimes we get it hugely wrong. Other times, it’s mostly right but with a few little tweaks it’ll be bang on. Still, when we get it wrong, we need to fix it. But asking certain types of creative people that a little piece of their soul is wrong is akin to asking them to eat shit.

You can’t dress it up. You can’t make it taste better. But you can hide it. It all lies in the art of the Shit Sandwich.

So, how does a sandwich work? You’ve got a slice of bread at the bottom, filling in the middle and another slice of bread on top, right?

In the case of a shit sandwich, you start by saying something nice about the work. For example; “I love the visual treatment…”, “The headline was hilarious…” or “I really admired your punctuality…”

Then, you administer the ‘shit’; “But, it’s been rejected by legals”, “My wife/husband/cat hates it” or “It’s so off brief we sent out a search party.”

The final slice is another affirmation to leave the creative feeling positive about what must happen next; “We’ve managed to extend the deadline so there’s more time for you to come up with something amazing! We’re sure you’ve got it in you.” Etc…

Good news – Bad news – Good news. That’s the Shit Sandwich.

In my experience, it’s the most effective way to get a creative person to happily slice and dice a piece of their soul for you. The method also works really well on pre-school children.

But be warned, administering a good Shit Sandwich takes practice. I’ve seen good clients clumsily rush in with the Open Shit Sandwich (no layer of good news on top) which the creative can see from a mile off and get in a bad mood before you even start talking. Or even worse, the Reverse-Open Shit Sandwich. Which just leaves everyone really confused and with shit on their hands.

There’s no such thing as good, bad feedback. But when you slip it between a couple of slices of something good, it makes it a lot more palatable.

How to brief a creative person ~or~ Making sure you get what you deserve.

Briefs are like design books. Most creative people love receiving them, but they don’t read them much: they flick through them for vague inspiration before running off in the direction their heart/gut tells them to go.

hipster_main22

But don’t let that dissuade you from writing one, because they’re massively important. Not just to guide the creative process, but to also help solidify your own thinking beforehand. Plus, when push comes to shove, it will be the lighthouse everyone looks to when they’ve all (yourself included) lost their way.

There is no ‘one’ perfect way to brief. Every advertising agency has a different template. But there are a few signposts you need to lay down to ensure the end result is right.

First of all, and this is the hardest part of the process, get rid of any preconceived notion of what the end result will look/sound/feel like. Just forget it. It will cloud the way you brief and it will cloud the way you respond to the work.

Step 1: Define what you want to achieve: Are you looking to build awareness? Are you having a sale? Are you launching something new? Whether you’re fulfilling a function or aiming for double-digit growth, put it down on paper and share it.

Step 2: Define the parameters: Who is the target audience? When do you need it by? If you’ve already booked the media, what’s the schedule? What’s your production budget? All these things will be factors that will affect the outcome. If you have the information, it’s best shared with those that need to know from the very start.

Step 3: Set the tone. If you’ve got an established brand this will be a walk in the park. If you’re starting from scratch it’s a process that really needs to take place separately. If you don’t know how your brand speaks to its audience, you really shouldn’t be advertising until you do. Taking the time to create one not only helps focus your communications, but can increase your effectiveness exponentially.

Step 4: Define how you will measure success. Separate from Step 1, this is more about what you want the target audience to think/feel/do once they’ve seen this piece of communication. Is it even measurable? If so, it’s good to set a target for the creative to aim for.

No offence, but this isn’t what success looks like to normal people. 

careerealism-success-wallSuccess-Graph-TransparentSUCCESS-BUILDS-SUCCESS

And despite all this required information, try to keep it short and sweet.

But what about the ‘Unique Selling Point’, or the ‘Single Minded Proposition’? These are ‘nice to haves’ but not essential. Besides, if you’ve got people writing those things for you, you don’t need to learn how to write a brief.

So there you have it. In short, know what you want to achieve, define the parameters, set the tone and define how you’ll measure success.

Start with these steps and an open mind, and your creative suppliers will thank you for it.

Day 2 of a design forum through the eyes of a writer ~ agIdeas 2013

Day 2 begins at 5:45, which is inhuman. Soon enough I’m off the train, caffeinated and hob-nobbing at the Advantage Business Breakfast. Thankfully, bacon and egg rolls are in abundance. Normal service resumes.

Dan Formosa’s opening talk was first class. He was engaging, insightful, took us on a journey and made an impression on everyone. He reset the bar for the remainder of the speakers for the rest of the conference. So many pearls of wisdom: don’t ask ‘what’, ask ‘why’, ‘People don’t buy your product, a person buys your product’. So many workable answers to our problems: ‘It’s personal relationships, treat them like you’re dating.’ You just wanted to wrap him up, stick him under your arm and run away so no one else can benefit from his genius but you.

At first, I couldn’t place John Barratt’s accent and it distracted me. Then I realised it was trans-Atlantic Novacastrian and slapped my forehead for not picking it sooner. John works at Teague. A massive industrial design company that only has about 20% industrial designers on staff. Makes sense. Well, everything else he said did. No matter how big your project, get a small, core team to run it. And he knows big projects. Like, $200,000,000,000.00 worth of big. He also told us designers need to get tangible early in the process. Handy.

Both mornings before the ‘big show’ we’ve been treated to the musical styling of an up and coming band (Rebirth/Red Leader). I neglected to mention this yesterday. Today’s group, made me feel like I was at a Spandau Ballet concert. But in a good way.

Notre premiere presenteur, Alain Le Quernec, didn’t suffer from English not being his first language. In fact, he used it as weapon. I don’t know how you say ‘brevity is wit’ in French, but I’m pretty sure he does. He proudly proclaimed not to be ‘a reference or an example’, then proceeded to show us time and time again exactly the opposite. He had us eating his political, cultural, social communication out of the palm of his hand until we were full.

Second up was a man I’d been looking forward to hearing from ever since the speaker announcements were made so I’m probably going to be unduly hard on him for missing the brief. David Nobay from Droga5. ‘Nobby’ is one of advertising’s better-known characters, and for good reason. His work proceeds him, as does his ability to get the best out of those around him. The guy wins awards for breakfast, but I’m not reviewing his work, I’m reviewing his talk. Nobby took it upon himself to give the students in the room a ‘pep-talk’. This included telling them that there were already too many people in the industry and illustrating his points with clips from MadMen. It would have been great if he gave us insights into how we can overcome all the problems he brought up and gave us a better insight into what he looks for in people, but unfortunately he didn’t.

To whoever tweeted about the lack of female representation on the speaker list, Leah Heiss should have put your mind at ease. I’ll take quality over quantity any day. With agIdeas now falling under the Victorian Government’s Design Matters initiative, Leah stood confidently on stage and showed us precisely why. With a range of inspired, functional jewellery designs that administer medicine, monitor arrhythmia, project allergy information and more. Reducing the necessity to lug around cumbersome, embarrassing equipment in the process. Leah told us she’ll work with anyone, micro-biologists, nanothechnologists, designers, and pretty much anyone else who she can learn from or be inspired by. The collective subconscious in the room said “You can work with me” in unison.

After a quick break, the affable Simon Rippingale took us through the process of ‘getting a project off the ground’ while telling the story of how we got his latest animation “A Cautionary Tail” realised. “A Cautionary Tail” was written by his creative partner while holed up in hospital for a year (echoes of @FullSickRapper). Stylewise, it uses live, filmed sets with 3D animated characters. The results, that we saw, were stunning and clearly painstaking to create. Somehow he managed to get it voiced by Barry Otto, David Wenham and Cate Blanchette. Impressive. Inspiring. Informative. Everyone is barracking for it to be a success. Look out for it on ABC later this year.

Ok, so I met Jan Van Shaik (from Minifie Van Shaik Architects) for the first and only time on Monday night. After a few beverages we had a chat. Despite only meeting him once, I will trust him to the ends of the earth and back. I mean, you’ve got to trust a man who loves his mum so much to walk out onto a stage in front of 2,500 people, get them to stand up and sing her (hi Catherine) Happy Birthday. Jan’s talk was a great balance of information, aspiration and detail. The only thing that could have improved it was if he’d successfully organised a Kickstarter project to fund a group purchase of that art deco former hospital in Mildura. Maybe there’s still time…. I dare you.

Reiko Sudo, founder of Nuno Corporation and Nuno Works is a worldwide authority in textiles. The time and effort that goes into her work, is reflected in the exquisite results. I couldn’t even begin to describe it. Simply go to nuno.com and feast your eyes. Despite not being particularly fluent in English, it was easy enough for Reiko to let her work do the talking. Simply breathtaking work.

After lunch, Ken Cato announced the winners of NewStar. Again, the ladies shone out (apologies for not getting names: I think there was a Grace? and someone from New Zealand) Anyway, congrats!

Then Kane Hibberd filled the breech after the unfortunate passing of the scheduled speaker’s mother (condolences to Mr Mott and family). Kane is a rock photographer who likes taking photos of guys covered in ‘shiz’. His talk was a refreshingly candid study in believing in yourself, following your dreams no matter how shit people say you are to your face. He shoots promo shots for bands in unique ways. It made for a ripping yarn accompanied by some very interesting visuals.

Chris Khalil came out next to take us on a half journey/half lecture on the world of User Experience. Like Kirsty Lindsay yesterday, Chris told us that if people don’t notice what he does, he’s doing a great job. It must be a bugger for his boss to give him performance reviews. Still, it was a good peek behind the curtain as to why news sites lay things out the way they do.

Ian Anderson followed Chris. You could see a good percentage of the audience sit a little further towards the edge of their seats. Despite still having tickets to sell for his ‘Up And Over Down Under’ Workshop this weekend, he was definitely not on a charm offensive to win over those umming and ahing over going along. Ian grumbled, grizzled and swore through his set. He’s no arse-licker is Ian. There’s no such thing as a good, rich designer too. Maybe it’s his thing? Maybe the fact that he earned the Twitter hashtag #CheerUpIan during his talk will please him. His PR shot (a close up him casually giving a two fingered salute) would suggest as much. Not knowing him from a bar of soap beforehand, I saw him as someone I’d probably love to have a beer with, but wouldn’t cross the road to be inspired by. Still trying to figure out if his parting slide “Don’t be a cunt all your life” was ironic or not.

Taiwan’s Pey Chwen Lin has created a really interesting hologram based installation piece known as Eve Clone. She took us through the process of bringing the concept to life – which was kind of interesting. Then she went deep. She started talking about the planet and how we’re stuffing it up (which I’m totally cool with). And this all led into what Eve Clone was all about. I was kind of expecting a half-baked concoction that was tenuous at best. What we got was so good it was scary. From memory, Eve (the first woman) Clone (technology) represents the lust men have for technology, and their desire to advance it, be with it, and use it to the sake of everything else. Her eyes follow you around the room at all times. The explanation had one absolute effect – All the guys who were live tweeting, quietly put their phones down. Bless.

By this stage of the day, you need something refreshing. The guys from Voice design delivered. So confident were they in their ability to cut the mustard as designers, they started their business fresh out of Uni. Their theory was, you’re not born with it, you learn it, work hard and earn it. From the looks of their work and their shut-up-and-do-it attitude, they’ll do just fine.

Last up was John Barratt. I’ve already sung his praises and he carried on well in the face of a couple of technical difficulties. The big difference between this talk and this morning was it gave us an insight into how his career started and subsequently took off. It’s all about trust.

I trust, we’ll see some more brilliance tomorrow.

Ripping off the brand-aid ~or~ saying goodbye to an old friend.

Shabbadu_logo NEWsmall

I buried an old friend today. Or, if you want me to turn down the melodrama a notch, I signed off a new logo for Shabbadu. While it was an absolutely necessary thing to do,  it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.  And here’s why.

1. I liked what we had. 

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I didn’t actually hate what we had before. Mainly, because I created it. Sure, I have no design training or skill, but that didn’t stop me when I was all excited about my new business seven years ago. And it took me ages! Well, ok, it took about 20 minutes. Still, I thought it was unique and special, and it did the job.

2. It’s a big investment.

Rebranding costs a lot of money. And it’s not just designers fees, you change one thing you’ve got to change everything. And you’d better change it all at once too or else. Bah! Too hard. Can’t I just get away with my old tracky dacks, I mean logo, for another few years?

3. I’m not the best judge of art direction/design.

I think the saying is ‘pearls before swine’. Despite my years of experience in advertising, I’ve always been a ‘I don’t know much about art but I know what I like’ kind of copywriter. Which is fine when you’ve got a talented, understanding art director by your side, but it’s a different kettle of fish when a) you’ve got to brief the thing in, and b) when you’ve got make a decision at the end of it all.

Basically, I found myself thrust into the role our clients find themselves in more often than not. Suddenly, I had to be making calls on stuff I really didn’t feel qualified to make calls on. At least not with any authority or accuracy. And, I wasn’t entirely convinced we needed to be changing anything in the first place. But I was lucky. I had a team around me that I trusted, and my designer provided enough evidence of industry and support to make me feel comfortable with their suggestions.

Emotions aside, the time was right for a new logo for Shabbadu. The business I began seven years ago is worlds away from the one we are today. One of the key differences is I’m saying we, instead of me. Suddenly, it’s not just about what I like. Breathe, Chris. Breathe.

We’ve all been guilty of being hard on clients for umming, ahhing, and rejecting perfectly good work for seemingly no reason. This experience will hopefully colour these situations for me in the future. I’ll be more understanding and appreciate that while we might just think of it as another chance to move the brand forward into a new and exciting future, for our clients it might represent the nadir of an existential crisis where they begin to question all manner of things about their life, past and present.

Still, onwards and upwards.

logo white and red on grey